BAKKERUD HITS HIS STRIDE F
On a venue that has been kind to him, Ford man scores. By Hal Ridge
ollowing two successive championship titles in the European rallycross Super1600 category in 2011 and 2012, Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud moved to the highest level of the sport in 2013, Supercar.
Driving for Liam Doran’s team, Bakkerud had a tough start to the year, but scored an empathic first victory at the Swedish round of the championship at Holjes, which turned his year around and wasn’t insignificant in the continuation of his career.
Bakkerud has never failed to finish on the podium at Holjes since, including both runnings of World RX rounds on the circuit closest to his home in Bergen, Norway.
Things were different for Bakkerud heading into the Swedish event in 2016 than they had been in 2013. Now driving for Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing Division outfit with its M-sport-developed Ford Focus RS RX, Bakkerud had dominated the previous round of the series at Hell in Norway.
But, when he exited the driver’s door of his stricken Focus last Saturday morning in Sweden, with two punctures and collapsed front-suspension that denied him finishing Q1 within metres of the finish line, Bakkerud must have felt a long way from the top step of the rostrum. The opening day and the first qualifying session claimed three scalps, including Bakkerud.
Championship leader Mattias Ekstrom retired with a fly-by-wire throttle issue and Petter Solberg crashed out after hitting the rear of Davy Jeanney’s Peugeot 208 when attempting to take the joker lap. All three did recover to make the semi-finals, while Volkswagen RX Sweden driver Johan Kristoffersson was consistent in both the wet and drying conditions to top the Intermediate Classification, with Bakkerud second, Solberg third and Sebastien Loeb fourth, the French driver having set the fastest time in Q1 only to be hampered by a puncture in both Q2 and Q4.
In semi-final one Bakkerud made the best start and held off Loeb throughout the race. In the second semi-final, Loeb’s team-mate Timmy Hansen made a brilliant start to lead on lap one, while behind Solberg challenged pole man Kristoffersson for second. Ekstrom had taken his joker on lap one and, when Solberg took his extra route, he came out onto the main circuit behind his title-rival and missed out on a place in the final. Solberg not making it to the main event, without problems having intervened, is unprecedented in World RX.
At the start of the final it was again Hansen who made the best start, while Bakkerud took his joker lap. Loeb followed Hansen with Anton Marklund and Ekstrom close behind, Marklund climbing to second at the end of the lap when Hansen made a mistake in the final corner after the circuit’s huge jump and slowed Loeb.
Ekstrom took his joker on lap two while Marklund took his compulsory extra-route on lap four. Meanwhile, Bakkerud and Kristoffersson had carved into the lead of the top trio and when Hansen and Loeb took their jokers on the final lap, it was Bakkerud who emerged in front of both.
Twelve months ago, the same scenario had happened on the last lap of the final and Hansen made a robust move in the very last corner on Ekstrom to claim victory on track before being handed a one-place grid penalty by the stewards for the incident. Bakkerud was wise to the potential of Hansen trying the same move twice and covered the inside line into the final corner to claim his second victory in succession.
In 2013, victory at Holjes turned Bakkerud’s season around, and in 2016, victory at the same venue proved that his home win in Hell was no fluke and that Bakkerud is a serious title contender if either Ekstrom or Solberg continue to drop points.
“It was a really hard final,” said Bakkerud, who has moved up to third in the standings. “I just missed the start and went to the joker and was chasing, chasing, chasing. I saw Timmy went for the joker and I just got ahead, and on the last lap I thought ‘I’m not going to relax.’”
Ironically, Hansen was still involved in final-corner drama as the handbrake on his Peugeot 208 locked on, allowing Loeb to just cross the line ahead of his team-mate.
Marklund finished fourth with a misfiring engine, his team-mate Kristoffersson was ruled out of a podium finish by a puncture while chasing Bakkerud. Ekstrom retired mid-race with a reoccurrence of his Q1 electronic throttle body problem. British driver Liam Doran set a best time of ninth in the four qualifying races, the JRM Racing team still continuing to develop the newly implemented two-litre engine and Doran didn’t make the semi-finals. ■